Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bucatini with Fresh Broccolini, Tomatoes, Turkey Bacon... and a Poached Egg

Who knew what an egg could do?

I'll preface this query with the disclaimer that I'm infinitely aware that there are far more important questions to pose and discoveries to be made. However, this egg on this pasta is a nice little place to start before venturing on to greater pastures.

I'm not really a poached egg sort of girl. I do like eggs in moderation, but prefer an over-easy egg to a poached. The egg white is a bit firmer and then, of course, there's the added benefit a bit of butter infuses. Served on a slice of toasted fresh grain bread, then topped with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper and that runny yolk does great things. Throw eggs together to make a frittada, or whip them up into a scramble with some onions, peppers and such... yum. But poached? Not so much.

I know a lot of people that love Eggs Benedict and scout out all the great brunch locales that deliver on this particular culinary treat. I am not one. I'll have the Huevos Rancheros instead, thank you.

Then we took a trip to the Napa Valley wine country recently which included visits to several of the great restaurants that area has to offer. On one particular night out we asked for a "go to" suggestion for our primo piatto and a version of what has become this little pasta was recommended. Throwing caution to the wind, we ordered it... poached egg and all.

While topping pasta with a poached egg is not new, I had never tried it and was completely unprepared for the absolute party it brought to not only the flavor of the dish but to the consistency. It beautifully enriches and enhances the sauce, melding perfectly with the tomato- and parmesan-flavored base that would certainly be great on its own but is much more interesting and inviting with the addition of that little egg. Once the poached egg melds into this dish you really don't know it ever existed. And that's the beauty of it. While it diffuses into the background, its presence is absolutely paramount to the flavor and richness of the pasta. It's also much more fun from a presentation perspective than, say, incorporating a couple of egg yolks directly into the sauce would be.

Though our Napa version of this pasta had guanciale in it, we didn't realize this until after we delved in. Guanciale is kind of the "king of bacon," noted for its leaner quality and rich flavor. It wasn't overly present in the dish we had but I knew that it provided a layer of flavor that really shouldn't be overlooked. The issue is that we don't really eat meat. I do, however, have a thing for turkey bacon. I use it in various dishes and just kind of figure it's an occasional splurge in our mostly vegetarian-pescatarian leaning that works for us. While real meat lovers may want to go with guanciale, I felt that the turkey bacon provided enough of the same flavor profile to keep us happy.

Also, our Napa version incorporated a parmesan brono (or broth). I simply popped a good chunk of parmesan rind down into the tomato base and let it simmer away, breaking down and releasing its great salty-cheesey bite. Some pasta water and a good little pop of black pepper also helps to get things sauced up and flavored right. Once plated, add a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese, if you like, and lay that little poached egg on top. It makes a great presentation. Each person can then crack open their own egg and let it run through their pasta, making sure it gets fully incorporated. Like magic, that little poached morsel virtually vanishes. Only you...and the egg...will ever truly know it was there.

Bucatini with Fresh Broccolini, Tomatoes, Turkey Bacon... and a Poached Egg
makes 3 to 4 servings

3/4 pound bucatini
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced yellow onion (about 1/2 large onion)
5 to 7 strips turkey bacon (diced)
1 bunch fresh broccolini, sliced diagonally into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups cut)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 can diced, no-salt tomatoes, with juices
parmesan rind (about 2 inch square)
reserved pasta water
salt and pepper, to taste (plus additional salt for pasta water; heavier hand with pepper in sauce)
2 to 4 poached eggs, depending on number of servings*
freshly grated parmesan cheese to top pasta, if desired

Heat large pot of water to boil. Season water with salt.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add diced onion, sauté for a minute before adding turkey bacon and continue sautéing for another 1 to 2 minutes to brown up bacon.

If pasta water is at full boil, add pasta to water and cook until al dente, about 9 to 11 minutes.

While pasta cooks, add broccolini and garlic to skillet mixture, continue cooking another 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, to taste. Add canned tomatoes, with juices, and break tomatoes into sauce with back of fork. Drop parmesan rind into sauce. Add a couple ladles of pasta water to loosen sauce. Season with additional salt and pepper, to taste, if needed. Reduce heat and simmer on low for 10 to 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer cooked pasta to skillet, toss to combine. Plate pasta and top with a poached egg.

*For poached eggs:
Heat about 3 inches of water in a deep skillet. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar. Let water come to a good simmer (not a boil)... various rules of thumb say 160 degrees F. to 180 degrees F. I go a little higher (use an instant read thermometer) and let them cook 2+ minutes. If cooking just one egg at a time, get a little whirlpool going in the skillet to receive egg by swirling water with a spoon first. Crack
egg into a little bowl and lower edge of bowl into water about 1/2 inch to release egg into center of whirling water. If cooking up to 4 eggs at a time, omit the whirlpool step and simply lower each egg in its own quadrant of the skillet. Use a spoon to kind of pull whites up and around its own yolk a bit and spoon water over top to full poach egg. After about 2+ minutes begin to remove eggs from water using a slotted spoon. Hover spoon over skillet a bit to let egg drain. Place egg directly on top of plated pasta.

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